Long time Kansas City residents often say they never knew about the gorgeous house hidden in Westport behind Prydes but there was a day when it, and its owners’ hotel, the Harris House, was the center of activity and culture in Westport. The Harris-Kearney House located on 4000 Baltimore Avenue in Westport, stands proud today with many stories to tell about the families that built our city, the struggles during wartime and how we are still connected to our past.
John and Henrietta Harris arrived in Westport in 1832 from Kentucky with their 6 children (one just a baby) and settled in what is now 39th & Gilham. Mr. Harris became a successful farmer but wanted another challenge, so in 1846 he purchased the Catfish Inn in Westport and moved from the farm to a log cabin where Davey’s Stagecoach Inn is located. The inn burnt to the ground in 1848 and the Harris’s built a three story, 30 room brick hotel in the current location of McCoy’s.
The hotel was hugely successful and they built the “mansion house” on the corner of Westport & Main in 1855. It was essential that they had a nice house in the city so that their 7 daughters (They had two more girls after moving to Westport) could meet eligible bachelors, and they did! Their daughter Mary Francis married Seth Ward, an Indian trader on the California, Santa Fe and Oregon trials and a real estate developer, whose house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and whose farm one of the battles of Westport was fought. Near Loose Park, and right off Ward Parkway, named for him, the house is gorgeous.
The years leading up to the Civil War were increasingly difficult and the Harris’s moved with their other daughter, Julia and son-in-law at 609 Main (The Town of Kansas) in 1861 when the Union Army was garrisoned in the mansion and their hotel. In fact General Curtis watched the Battle of Westport from the roof of the Harris Hotel – there were no houses and few trees in the region in the 1860’s so this was possible to do. Amazingly, the house and hotel were not destroyed by the army as many were. In 1864 the Harris’s moved back into the home. Their daughter and son-in-law, Charles Kearney, (Native of Ireland, former Texas Ranger, director of the Kansas City branch of the Union bank of St. Louis, outfitter for settlers heading west and instrumental in getting the Hannibal bridge built and the railroad to Kansas City) moved with them and they stayed there after the death’s of the Harris’s in 1873 and 1881. In 1898, Charles Kearney sold the home to William Rockwell Nelson of the Kansas City Star (and Nelson- Atkins Museum) and he, in turn, gave it to his editor-in-chief as a wedding present.
In 1921, it was sold to a developer and was going to be torn down, but Julie Kearny Wornall, (Wornall Road, Wornall House) Charles and Julia’s daughter and the granddaughter of the Harris’s, desperate to save the house, bought it for $1000 and another $5000 was spent to move the house to its current location. It was a museum for awhile until the depression hit and it spent some time vacant. It was then home to a group of doctors before the Westport Historical Society purchased and restored it in 1976.
Come and learn the fascinating story about Hattie, an 11 year old slave who begged Charles Kearney to buy her so she wouldn’t be sold to an abusive man in town and spent the rest of her life with the family as a free woman. Learn about how the entire brick house (16 inches thick on the outside and 13 inches on the inside) was moved. Find out why this house, along with other southern houses did not have kitchens. Discover what the Harris’s and others in Westport had to endure before and during the Civil War. Or just come and marvel at the amazing craftsmanship that went into this house – the woodwork hand carved from their own trees, bricks made from their own clay and sand from the Missouri river and fired on the property and the beautiful furniture.
The Harris-Kearney House is open for tours on Wednesday through Saturdays 1-5, other times by appointment, and admission is $6. Be sure to come out for the Christmas Candlelight Tours on November 27th & 28th. This year’s theme is Little Women. Please support our priceless historic sites!
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